Connecting the spots

Notes on migration and environment from a geographical perspective

Kayly Ober

Kayly Ober

Kayly Ober is a research associate/PhD candidate at the University of Bonn, where she works for the TransRe Project. She has over eight years of professional experience on issues related to climate change, adaptation, migration, gender, and human security. She has previously worked at the World Bank, Overseas Development Institute, Woodrow Wilson Center, and World Resources Institute, among others. TWITTER @kaylyober

May 23rd 2016 by Kayly Ober

Climate and Migration to Feature at World Humanitarian Summit

Leaders or delegates from 175 countries around the world are attending the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) this week, which looks to produce non-binding commitments around mobilizing more funds for humanitarian aid, improving their distribution, and considering transferring money from larger national NGOs to smaller aid agencies operating on the ground, among other things.

International Organizations Push for including Migrants in Humanitarian Efforts

Karen AbuZayd, the UN Special Adviser on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, said the large numbers of people who have fled their homes due to conflict or just the need to find a better life, were “overwhelming systems” and that the international community should “prioritize” the migrant and refugee crisis at the WHS.

Several organizations, such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM), are leading the charge.

In fact, IOM has made five key policy recommendations for the WHS:

  1. Protect the human rights of all migrants
  2. Ensure all migrants in a situation of vulnerability have access to humanitarian assistance
  3. Strengthen partnerships within the humanitarian response to include affected populations, national civil society, and the private sector 
  4. Increase focus on disaster risk reduction for resilience
  5. Promote coherence between humanitarian action and development planning

“Remittances from migrants total much more than any overseas development assistance. Migration isn’t a problem, it is a challenge. And a solution. Migration is humanity’s oldest and time-trusted coping strategy,” said IOM’s Director General William Lacy Swing.

As Loic Le De found out through research in Samoa, sometimes remittances reach those impacted before humanitarian aid and enabled the receivers to cope more easily with emergency needs, such as buying food, clothing, or getting access to health care. These facets need to be taken into account in actions and programming of humanitarian actors.

Platform on Disaster Displacement Unveiled

Climate change is also on the forefront of policymakers minds at the WHS. In fact, the next phase of the groundbreaking Nansen Initiative, a state-led, bottom-up consultative process intended to build consensus on the development of a protection agenda addressing the needs of people displaced across international borders in the context of disasters and the effects of climate change, was announced on Monday, May 23. The new Platform on Disaster Displacement, to be led by Germany and Bangladesh, will “make use of the findings of the Nansen Initiative and implement the Protection Agenda in accordance with specific realities in [each] region.”

How Can and Should Migration Feature in International Settings?

The Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) may be instructional as policymakers move forward this week with the WHS. Migrants are mentioned often as among the worst affected in disasters a number of times in the discussions that have resulted in the framework. The SFDRR also points to mobility as a potential driver of risk, both for those moving, and for those who are affected by the effects of other people's movement – think for instance migration contributing to rapid, unregulated urbanization and resulting in the establishment of settlements of unsafe houses in hazard-prone sites. But the framework also stresses that migration has a positive potential for risk reduction and resilience building, and that migrants have unique experiences and capacities that can (and should) be leveraged for reducing disaster risk (paragraph

But, much like the WHS, the SFDRR is non-legally binding, and even the quantifiable objectives it includes are not hard commitments to the countries that have signed it.

Only time will tell if this year’s WHS is a fig leaf or part of fundamental change when it comes to inclusion of issues related to migration and/or climate change.

Image Credits: Humanitarian aid in Donetsk, UNICEF Ukraine // Humanitarian aid in Kandahar, Afghanistan, ResoluteSupportMedia // Latest aid supplies reach earthquake-hit Nepal from the UK, UK DFID